What Is a VPN? What Parents Need to Know
**This blog post was updated on March 21, 2023.**
What is a VPN? To answer that, first we have to ask a few other questions. What if your kids found a way to get around all of your parental controls? What if they could fake their location so that you didn’t know where they were? We hate to break it to you, but now they can. As technology evolves, so do the ways that kids try to get around its protections. One big way that’s becoming popular is to use a VPN. “Don’t worry — in this post, we'll break down everything you need to know about VPNs.
What is a VPN and How Does It Work?
VPN stands for virtual private network. People use VPNs to mask their IP addresses. This makes it look like they're in a different location, which makes it harder for other users to uncover their identity. It also encrypts all incoming and outgoing data so that it can’t be read by anyone else — especially people who want to exploit it for personal gain.
The original purpose of a VPN was to allow remote workers to safely connect to a corporate network when they couldn't trust the networks between their home and their office. There are some very specific security purposes that VPNs address in a corporate setting, but for casual users, the encryption that VPN offers is really no better than what most people already enjoy every day without it.
If a site’s address starts with “https,” which is the standard for almost every website today, your data is encrypted just as securely as it would be if you used a VPN. Additionally, most browsers will have a pop-up message that warns you if you’re about to enter an unsecured site.
Why Should I Care If My Child Uses a VPN?
Parental controls that are used to block or restrict content, websites, and apps that deny access are based on the IP address of the user. When accessing the internet through a VPN, your filters see a different IP address so it isn’t able to apply the rules. This means that your child can use a VPN to easily bypass the settings you’ve put in place to keep them from accessing restricted content or platforms. Similarly, students can get around their school’s internet restrictions, accessing blocked websites that have inappropriate content or that chew up the entire network’s bandwidth. What is a VPN compared to a proxy URL? In general, the two operate similarly but VPNs are usually downloadable applications.
How to Find Out If Your Kid Is Using One
There are a few ways:
- Use the phone’s search tool and type in “VPN.” This will identify whether any apps that provide a VPN are downloaded onto their device.
- Most phones will display either “VPN,” an icon, or a notification showing that a VPN is in use. (However, children who are savvy enough to use a VPN will likely not have it on at all times, so it's a good idea to spot-check the device when it's in use.)
- Parents can use Bark’s dashboard to see what apps their child has downloaded on their device.
How Can I Prevent My Child From Using a VPN?
If your child already has a VPN installed, delete it or block it.
- On Android: How to Block an App on Google Family Link
- On iOS: How to Block an App on Apple’s Screen Time
To prevent your child from downloading a VPN app:
- On Android: How to Require Permission for New Apps to be Downloaded Using Google Family Link
- On iOS: How to Require Permission for New Apps to be Downloaded Using Apple’s Screen Time
- On the Bark Phone: You can require that every new app installation be approved by you.
Why Does Bark Use One?
The Bark app relies on a VPN to bypass limitations in Android, Chromebook, and iOS operating systems. It’s what lets us manage screen time and filter websites on your child’s device. It’s important to remember that there’s nothing inherently wrong with VPNs. They can be causes of concern simply because many kids download them to get around the network restrictions their parents or schools put in place. Used in this way, VPNs essentially hide their tracks so no one can see what they’re doing. Bark, on the other hand, uses a VPN to help you keep your kid safe online. On Android devices and Bark Phone, you can passcode protect Bark's VPN so it can't be disabled.
Help Protect Your Child Online
Now that you have the answers to “what is a VPN” and “how does a VPN work”, your knowledge can help you protect your kids both online and in real life. As parents, we set rules and expectations for how to use technology that we feel are in our kids’ best interest. If using a VPN makes it harder for you to keep your kids better protected, you can make a technology contract with them to prohibit them from using one — in addition to any other rules that are appropriate for your family. You can also monitor their online activities with Bark to get alerts to potential issues like cyberbullying, sexting, suicidal ideation, threats of violence, and more Sign up today for a free, one-week trial!
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Bark is a comprehensive online safety solution that empowers families to monitor content, manage screen time, and filter websites to help protect their kids online. Our mission is to give parents and guardians the tools they need to raise kids in the digital age.